Do you have the stomach for employee engagement?

By Tom Roth

Early in my career, I worked for an NFL quarterback who is now in the Hall of Fame. Late in his career he was having trouble throwing the long passes downfield, and his production dropped off dramatically. The team feared his arm was “dead.“ They ran every test possible to diagnose and fix his arm to no avail.

Come to find out, he had a torn stomach muscle, which affected his throwing motion and eventually his arm strength. So to fix his arm problem they had to fix his stomach problem.

Everyone understands in today’s challenging economy, you need to deliver a truly compelling and differentiated customer experience to actively engage customers. Most organizations have focused on what needs to happen at the customer interface to create the kind of customer engagement that builds loyalty and deepens relationships. While actions like these are clearly critical, they are not sufficient. It is like trying to increase customer engagement by fixing only the “arm problem.” What about the “stomach problem”?

We’ve probably all seen the same research that shows two very important points. Managers understand the first very important point: If you want engaged customers, you need to have engaged employees! Second, the same research continues to show unacceptably low scores related to fully engaged employees. Organizations talk a good game about understanding the connection between needing engaged employees in order to have engaged customers, but they are not rising to the challenge to do enough about it.

I think the “stomach problem” that needs to be addressed is leadership effectiveness. Leadership has the greatest opportunity to influence the energy of the organization. Leaders either give energy to, or take energy out of, the organization. My experience tells me that most leaders fall woefully short in creating a culture of employee engagement that:

  • Inspires an emotional connection to the organization’s vision and purpose.
  • Leads employees to commit their full energy to work and contribute to customer engagement.
  • Creates loyalty and commitment to the organization.

Why I Believe in Employee Engagement

One reason I feel so strongly about this is that I often present this point of view to groups of HRD executives at various conferences or marketing events. They very quickly agree that employee engagement is critical to customer engagement. And, they are quick to recognize the link to leadership as all they want to discuss is what they need to do to improve their leadership effectiveness. I guess the idea that leadership effectiveness must improve if they expect to have more engaged employees—and therefore more engaged customers—hit them right in the gut, pardon the pun.

That’s what I think…what do you think?


Tom Roth

Tom Roth is Chief Operating Officer of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. (U.S.) and President of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. (Japan). With more than 40 years of experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions, Mr. Roth is responsible for the strategic direction and business performance of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. operations. In addition, he leads the global marketing services and R&D solutions group, which is responsible for the research and development of all solutions and position papers. Mr. Roth assists global executive leadership teams with issues related to employee engagement, leadership development, strategy alignment, and business transformation. Before assuming his current role, he was President of the global R&D and solution development groups and also served as President of Wilson Learning Corporation.

Mr. Roth has extensive experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions. He is coauthor of the book Unplugged: How Organizations Lose Their Energy and How to Get It Back, coauthor of the book Creating the High-Performance Team, and is published in numerous business publications. Mr. Roth is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences and client events, presenting on a wide variety of issues including leadership, employee engagement, change, and strategy implementation.